For this issue of my tales from Scandinavia series we visit Norway. A country who Footballing wise haven’t really seen much daylight. Having only qualified for four major tournaments since 1938 with their last appearance coming in Euro 2000 the Norwegians, despite their passion and love for the game, really haven’t had much to cheer for on the international stage.
For their clubs in Europe, seeing either Rosenburg or Molde in the Europa League Group stage is not an unusual occurrence but neither side has qualified for the Champions Group stage since 2007-8. The most success in recent history was in 2015-16 when Molde finished top of their Europa League group ahead of Ajax, Celtic and Fenerbahçe and then actually went on to beat the eventual tournament winners when they beat Sevilla 1-0 in the round of 32 2nd leg.
Norwegian clubs venture into European Football is generally covered in the UK when they get some kind of shock result. In 1996 (A campaign I am all too aware of) Rosenburg beat then English Champions Blackburn Rovers 2-1 and finished above them in the Group. Then in 2002 Viking managed to knock, a Chelsea team made up of Cudicini, Huth, Gallas, Terry, Le Saux, Stanic, Lampard, Petit, Gronkjaer, Zola and Hasselbaink, out of the UEFA Cup winning 5-4 over two legs. The fact is if you have ever heard of any Norwegian success on the World stage it is either an individual player or it is their Women’s side! The Norwegian Women’s side have been World and Olympic champions and European Champions twice!
But I believe that we are seeing signs in this last decade that Norway have begun a process that will see the country back on the international stage within the next few years!
In 2015 Oslo native Josh King made his Premier League debut for Bournemouth and has since gone on to score 50 goals in the Premier League whilst also being linked with big money moves back to his former club Manchester United. That same year Martin Odegaard shocked the footballing world when the 16-year-old was signed for Real Madrid. After having been on the fringes of the team for a long time, aged 22, Odegaard has started somewhat of a comeback, after a successful loan spell with Real Sociedad the Norwegian Wunderkind has played 10 games already for Real Madrid this season.
At the same time in 2015, we didn’t know it but another star had just taken his first steps in Youth Football. In the South of Norway in the small town of Bryne, 15-year-old Erling Haaland had just finished his first season with Bryne FK 2 scoring 18 goals in 14 games. Four years later he was breaking records for Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League when he became only the second teenager to score in his first three Champion League appearances, the other being Karim Benzema. Since joining Dortmund in 2019 Haaland hasn’t stopped scoring, becoming one of the most prolific strikers on earth. 33 goals in 32 games since he made the move is a testament to that. Haaland was also named 2020’s Golden Boy.
But it doesn’t stop there! Young Norwegian talent has been slowly spreading across Europe and now make up a large part of the national side. In the past two national selections 23 of the players picked were 25 or under! With seven of those aged u23 all playing in the Five biggest leagues in Europe.
There is a Norwegian revolution going on under our noses but where is it all coming from? The answer may be ‘The Landslagsskolens’. In 2010 the Norwegian FA introduced the National Team School. The idea is simple find the best young talent between 12 and 16 in Norway and begin them on a pathway towards international Football.
The School was responsible for finding Martin Odegard and with the clear growth of Norwegian teens across Europe the School is working. With over 700 part-time coaches/ scouts across the country the chances of talent slipping through the cracks is now very unlikely. The Norwegian FA have also spent millions on developing 5-a-side Football pitches across the country all in an effort to not just help improve Norway’s youth but also to change the very culture of Sport in Norway!
One of the issues with Norwegian Football is that the culture is ingrained into Skiing, and at a young age this is the Sport that kinds are introduced to. But the skills between Skiing and Football are minimal and almost non-transferable, so the Norges Fotballforbund (NFF) are putting Football at the forefront, by getting to Footballers at a young age, developing coaches in the country and offering more and better facilities, along with role models like Odegaard and Haaland the Norwegian Football revolution is well underway!